Archive for the 'Neighborhoods' Category

Mass Ave Crit and FtnSqr Grand Prix


It has been a great summer for cycling action here in Indianapolis.  We are seeing great returns on our infrastructure investments, and our citizens are starting to embrace bicycle culture more enthusiastically.  A good example of this was the Mass Ave Crit 2012 held last weekend.

Whipping around the Mass Ave triangle at full speed


The Mass Ave Crit is one of the most established races in the area, and it was a great turnout from spectators, fans, and cyclists.  The event was blessed with beautiful weather and a lot of support from the community.  I watched as many of the races as I could, and there was great action on every lap.

Mayor Ballard about to start another race


A pop-up biergarten from the generous sponsor


Celebrating the finish


So now that the MAC and IndyCrit are complete, we have one more event to look forward to.  It’s going to be a big weekend in Fountain Square, and the weather is looking good for the first Fountain Square Grand Prix!  And of course, this neighborhood is ready to usher in the bike race with a great lineup of music, food, and a big race.

FSGP is a great excuse to visit the neighborhood and the newly completed Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)


Concert Schedule at the bottom of this Indy Star article “Psyched in Fountain Square“.  These are gonna be some great tunes.

Race map and race schedule on this flyer by Joe’s Cycles (and also an interview with Joe here).  If you had any doubts about whether Fountain Square has “made it” as a neighborhood yet, just look at the sponsors at the bottom of that flyer.  If you don’t recognize any of them, you need to be spending more time in this part of town because they all kick ass.  It’s a great opportunity to celebrate summer cyling and the urban vibes that drive this neighborhood.

(image credit: Curt Ailes)

Indy’s Superbowl Village


Welcome to Indianapolis, NFL fans

If anyone in the area has not been to the Superbowl Village (i.e. Georgia Street) you are missing out on a truly unique experience.  This will be a watershed event, both for Indianapolis festival planning, as well as for the future of sporting events in the US.  We have set the bar pretty high on this one.

Indy Cars at a cross-promotion for the Superbowl

Here are some photos I wanted to share with everyone.  It’s only been up for a few days, so I can’t wait to see how it develops as we approach the weekend of the big game.  See you all downtown!

Superbowl Village is centered around the pedestrianized Georgia Street


JW Marriott has their spirit on


A favorite activity is ziplining above the crowds


Laces out!


Indy's finest are on foot this week (keep up the good work guys!)


At night the village comes to life with music


The main stage


Bret Michaels rocked it on opening night

Former Colts player Hunter Smith taking the Pepsi Stage


The Village People were a big draw


People are loving this place

Transit Accessible Nightlife in Indianapolis


In honor of IndyGo’s decision to offer FREE bus rides during the final superbowl weekend, Urban Indy decided to put on our drinking caps and start exploring what routes might be useful for a visitor.  The purpose was to provide a simple guide for anyone unfamiliar with the city and its bus system to explore some interesting neighborhoods while enjoying some good local beer and food.

We discussed potential routes and attractions, and debated what would be most worthwhile for someone making this trip.  We concluded that the best option was to focus on a single route that hit some of the best places for nightlife in the city.  We chose bus route #17, which can get passengers close to the Broad Ripple, College Ave, Mass Ave, and downtown nightlife districts in one single route.

We decided to test out this route last Saturday and it worked pretty well.  The buses were on-time, clean, and full of friendly people.  We added on a separate trip to Fountain Square at the end because of the new Fountain Square Brewery grand opening event, but in general the #17 line will offer more than enough choices for superfans.

But, please note there are some major caveats with this:

  1. Bus service in Indianapolis typically ends much earlier than you would expect.  Always check the bus schedule for the day and time you want just to make sure there will be one available.  I recommend starting farther away from downtown and working your way back, just so you have the option to stay a bit longer at the last stop and walk the rest.
  2. Indianapolis has a small number of buses and 30 minute headways on route #17, so plan ahead when ordering those beers and paying the tab.

If you decide not to do the bus #17 route, there will be some other options including a free shuttle service between the different areas with nightlife, walking/biking along the cultural trail, or taking a cab.  Whatever you choose, enjoy it and be safe!

In the end, I hope anyone visiting these places has as much fun as we did.  Here’s a sample of our night’s events:

Twenty Tap was our first stop of the night All Twenty Taps (now 31!) have great local beer Twenty Tap with Dave (UI reader), Graeme (UI writer), Kevin (UI writer), and Joe (UI writer) Seats from Bush Stadium now reused as a bus stop IndyGo buses accept bikes in case you are planning a bike/ride event MacNiven's on Mass Ave is a local favorite Good beers and friendly bartenders at MacNiven's New bus canopy along Cultural Trail in Fountain Square Fountain Square Brewery lives up to the hype The Grand Opening of Fountain Square Brewery was well attended


The Catacombs of Tomlinson Hall


One of my favorite parts of Indianapolis is Market Street.  The east side of Market Street once hosted two really awesome buildings, the City Market building which is still there and Tomlinson Hall which was lost to fire in 1958.

A view of Tomlinson and City Market from the old County Courthouse

My experience with Tomlinson Hall began when I worked as the engineer for the City Market renovations.  The market space was upgraded and people seem to love it.  What a shame that we lost its companion so many years ago.  There are still parts to admire including an old arch in the west wing plaza.  But if you think that is the only part left, you might be surprised.

This arch is the last bit of Tomlinson Hall above ground

Pieces of Tomlinson Hall sit just below the West Wing plaza.  And not just any random bits of structure, but one of the most impressive basements in Indiana.  This place is special, and people in the city refer to it as the “the catacombs.”

A forest of brick columns

The barrel vaults and brick columns

The foundations of Tomlinson Hall were built using some amazing materials and construction techniques, which you just don’t come across often.  The details of the masonry show an attention to detail and familiarity with brick and stone that is hard to replicate.

A lateral arch supports the barrel vault ceiling at a niche below the sidewalk

Some of Indy's best masonry work is hidden below ground

Although it was not in the scope for the latest renovations for City Market property, this is really cool asset that I hope the city finds a way to share with the public at some point.

A view of the massive cut-stone piers that once supported Tomlinson Hall

Recently, City Market opened a taproom on their mezzanine and named it in honor of Tomlinson Hall.  The catacombs aren’t accessible by the public yet, but anyone can stop in at Tomlinson Taproom and celebrate it with a fresh, local pint of beer.

Footnote:  You can watch a video tour of the catacombs on this Youtube video from 2009 (fast forward to 4:30).

Pedestrians at Risk in our Cities


It’s no secret that pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries have been rising in our cities.  As more people explore active transportation options they are coming into conflict with vehicular traffic.  A recent article on USA Today shows that this is a real problem and it is reaching a new level of visibility in the debate on transportation in the US.

Most people understand that the faster a vehicle is driving, the more dangerous it can be for pedestrians and people on bicycles.  Risk is a combination of probability and consequence, and the data in the chart shows a surprising increase in the risk as the vehicular speed increases above 20 mph, as shown in the figure.

This data is well known amongst traffic engineers, and it causes them to design streets in a way that I don’t approve of.  Instead of designing streets that encourage drivers to be more aware of pedestrians and to drive slower, they isolate cars into traffic sewers and funnel them through the city at high speeds.  The problem is that this cuts up the city, street by street.  Pedestrians have only the option of staying on their own block or sprinting madly across several lanes of traffic. We need a better system, one that recognizes that there are places for traffic segregation and there are places for traffic integration.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  There are many successful models for building communities which are safe for pedestrians but preserve access for vehicles.  You can look to the dutch “Woonerf” or “Shared Space concept.”  The British have their own “Home Zone” initiative.  But you can also find great examples here in Indianapolis.  Our own Monument Circle is a fantastic place to see cars and vehicles negotiating space safely, and the finished Georgia Street is going to be a model for other cities for many years to come.

Georgia Street during construction (image credit: Curt Ailes)


The examples above are great for low speed interaction between cars and people, but we also have some great ideas when it comes to managing high-speed traffic issues.  The Cultural Trail is designed to move a large amount of people on foot or on bike through downtown, and it really elevates active transportation to the same quality and accessibility that vehicles have.

Indy's Cultural Trail (image credit: Curt Ailes)

These local examples show that there are two effective strategies for reducing pedestrian risks:

  1. establish pedestrian zones where cars and people interact at very slow speeds – do this for both commercial and residential areas with local traffic
  2. establish arterial zones where cars and people are segregated – give people and cars separate facilities where the speeds are too dangerous for mixing


The Power of Natural Places


Natural places have a role to play in our neighborhoods.  The best urban sites share space with nature so well that you can not tell when the bricks stop and the trees begin.  Whether it is a chestnut tree in a courtyard or an old street lined with elms, nature has to be present or our cityscape is unsatisfactory.

The beautiful streets of Lockerbie Square did not happen by accident

Michigan Street in Irvington with sidewalk and tree canopy

The ability to incorporate natural spaces into our neighborhood is often limited by our choices in infrastructure.  We refuse to plant trees along streets because it is considered dangerous for drivers (even though its much safer for pedestrians).  Once we convince ourselves that trees are a good idea we find that the power company “tops” them to keep the power lines free of limbs.

Using alleyways or underground wiring can solve part of the problem.  But even then our arborist friends are thwarted, sometimes because steam pipes rot tree roots (even wonder why we have so few trees downtown?) or the city starts poisoning vegetation to save on costs (checked out Robert D. Orr Plaza lately?).

A small street near Pleasant Run Creek has kept its natural appeal

Integrating nature into our neighborhoods doesn’t happen by accident.  It has to be an explicit strategy that is aggressively pursued and maintained.  It must have support from everyone in a community, from the family next door all the way to the deputy mayor.  Otherwise, we end up in a desert of concrete and asphalt.

Using natural elements in our city improves our quality of life.  But some places deserve the right to remain natural. Sometimes the beauty of an area overwhelms us and we realize that we can’t improve it.  The Kyle Oak in Irvington is just such a place.  The Kyle family loved their Bur Oak so much, that they abandoned and bulldozed their home rather than put the tree at risk.

Meet the oldest resident of Irvington

The tree limbs span time and space

People need access to nature to stay healthy

While the Kyle Oak is a unique example of nature in our neighborhoods, there are opportunities all around us that we should be taking advantage of.  Pocket parks reclaimed from shuttered houses, community gardens, tree-lined avenues and shopping streets, or wildflower meadows instead of lawns.  Let’s get serious about inviting nature to live with us.

A wrinkled carcass reminds us that trees grow old and pass like all things in nature

Efroymson Conservation Center


The Efroymson Conservation Center is one of the best new buildings in Indianapolis.  It has several innovative features that make it a great fit for The Nature Conservancy. I encourage everyone to go explore it and see what it can teach us about conservation in the urban age.

The center serves as the main office and gathering space for conservation efforts in Indiana

It’s hard to explain why this building is so important, but it all comes down to holistic design.  Every piece works towards the greater goal, establishing a synergy that few projects have realized.  If sustainability is the key metric of contemporary architecture then this project is a landmark worthy of its accolades.

The building has an F.A.R. of about 0.5, which is lower than the nearby Maxwell Commons and lower than a typical downtown project.  But the stats don’t tell the whole story.  This project is just as much about the outdoors as the indoors.  1/3 of the one acre site is native landscaping, combining a bioswale and representative ecologies of Indiana.  The land serves other purposes as well, collecting stormwater and containing a Geothermal system.  So, when one considers that the project designers used every bit of square footage to further TNC’s mission, it is clear that this building is a success.  (see this brochure for a summary of the design)

Just like the Cultural Trail, this is one project that people around the country recognize as important and worth attention.  Here are some photographs of the Efroymson Center in case anyone has not had a chance to visit yet.

The center serves as the main office and gathering space for conservation efforts in Indiana A view of the Ohio Street frontage Another view of the street frontage More reclaimed wood and shading structures All of the bricks are reused from the original building on-site The entry hall is decorated with Indiana hardwoods I am a big fan of the detailed structural elements The bricks are mixed in with Indiana limestone elements The Nature Conservancy hosts walkthroughs - the building is expected to achieve LEED Platinum Much of the wood was selectively harvested from TNC managed lands The high efficiency lights dim when daylight is sufficient The HVAC is an automated geothermal system A typical office space Conference rooms are in the middle with windows on both sides Another office - note access to daylight and underfloor register The Nature Conservancy has an important mission A view of the basement meeting room with light well and living walls A closer view of the living walls A view of Ohio Street and the roof meadow An accent planter Recycled materials are used throughout the building The green roof A view of the Easley Winery just to the East The green roof has some special break-in requirements A view of downtown and the Maxwell Commons to the West More of the green roof material The green roof is compatible with conventional building infrastructure The green roof filters the rainwater before it is collected and stored in the basement cistern A specialized water distribution system handles clear water and grey water The tank can store enough water to last through the typical Indiana dry spots Another shot of the special plumbing The center will soon have wind turbines installed here A little bit of design for the street furniture The West elevation is all business Reclaimed brick screen walls hide utility space A view of the light well on the back side A closeup of the living wall from above All of the plants on site are native to Indiana The parking lot is actually a stormwater catchment device All rainwater that hits the property is treated and absorbed on-site (this is quite an accomplishment) The native stone paving transitions nicely from auto to pedestrian use More views of the native species and the North elevation The North elevation and Maxwell Commons beyond Plants are spread throughout the space An accent wall with green elements The floors are low maintenance stained concrete in this area Exposed structural elements were selected for their appearance, sound, and insulation properties A secondary grey water system is used whenever possible to preserve treated water for potable uses The break room An extra room used for workout space with adjacent lockers and a shower

Fixing Ugly Buildings


Recently the question has been raised how to fix an ugly building, mostly in regards to the Di Rimini (and here and here and especially here).  It is a hard question to answer without first discussing what “ugly” means. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are obvious problems with treating a building purely as sculpture and ignoring its contribution to the urban environment beyond aesthetics.


Buildings can be ugly in many ways.  Some turn their back on the street, showing a blank concrete or sheetmetal wall.  Some use such cheap materials that their facades disintegrate within a decade.  Some are unconscionable mixtures of architectural styles that blend into an incoherent bloody mess.  Some are multiple offenders.

Fortunately, designers have many ways to improve a building’s appearance and functionality without wiping the slate clean.  An industrial building in my neighborhood serves a good first example.  The structure was built right in the heart of the historic district and presented a brutal precast concrete face to the neighborhood.


Adaptive reuse by a local firm in 2008-2009 resulted in a new appearance and some good activity within the space. By using a modern scheme of awnings and accentuating the windows, the designers drew out the positive aspects of the building.  It’s not a perfect fix, but it shows that the space is cared for and that the owners care about its place in the neighborhood.

The renovated building now hosts a design factory, an architecture firm, and technology firms

The updates were simple but effective

Another example of an ugly building is the site at the corner of Virginia and Washington.  One of the most important street corners of Ralston’s original plan for Indianapolis, it has been host to some of the best and the worst buildings in Indy history.  The fun part about this one is that the votes for best and worst flip around depending on who you ask.

The original building was a ornate flatiron style building called the Indiana Trust building.  (See Vance-Block building history).  This was demolished in 1959 to make way for a modern building for Merchants Bank. It lost the urban density, street-level retail, and historic urban texture of the previous building.  The new structure also introduced a drive-thru and a facade meant to be appreciated at 40mph.

The "Zipper Building" was a famous Modernist landmark

The quest for modernism claimed another victim in 1959, but the result was a structure that some hoped would be even more timeless in its beauty.  The debate over the new building was a reflection over a more universal debate:  what is the role of historic preservation in our cities?

The new owners changed the facade of the zipper building in 2007.  I will recuse myself for professional reasons and not offer an opinion on this one, but I am interested in what people think.  Was the loss of a modernist building just another missed opportunity to preserve our heritage, or does the new facade and street level commercial space fix an ugly building that was never meant to be there?

The new Broadbent building recalls the historic buildings once on site

The newer design allows for a more active streetscape

Most importantly, do these examples give us any ideas on how to deal with our current stock of ugly buildings?  Should we enthusiastically preserve ugly buildings as part of our urban history or should we focus on converting them into buildings that fit downtown?

Celebrate Self-Sufficiency during World Kitchen Garden Day


Sunday, August 22 is World Kitchen Garden Day! It’s a perfect time to haul in some produce from a backyard garden and cook up something worthy of this great holiday.

My wife and I installed a garden in the backyard this year, I have come to love it wholeheartedly.   Our garden has been one of the best experiences of my adult life.  Nothing is more satisfying than grabbing a fresh cucumber off the vine when I come home from work, then immediately chopping it up and making a salad for dinner. I have been eating healthier, having more fun, spending more time with my wife and less time in front of the TV, and paying less for groceries.

Seriously, growing your own food is something that everyone who eats should try out at least once.  Gardening is a simple and easy thing to do (so easy a caveman could do it!).  Actually, agriculture began almost 10,000 years ago and made human civilization possible.  Small plots are a fun way to pay tribute to our ancestors, while creating a more sustainable future for our descendants.

And the quality of the food is unbelievable. The fresh ingredients easily surpass anything you might find in a restaurant.  Try it out, and you too will know the pleasures of small-scale gardening.  It may be too late in the season to start a garden this year, but make a resolution to grow some of your own food next year!  Here are some photos from my garden construction to give you some ideas:

BEFORE PHOTO: we composted on the site for a year before to help prepare it Step #2 was tilling in all that organic debris and making beautiful soil Laying out the new garden and fence line We installed a fence to keep out dogs and provide a visual separation Garden construction is complete with pavers and weedblock Our first plantings were herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant We also put in some non-edible landscaping for a finished look A few months after planting and the garden is doing great The weed barrier and mulch have kept maintenance to a minimum Now our garden provides most of our vegetables and all of our herbs We repaired our gutters and are testing out our new rain barrels Soon both barrels will be hooked up to our pressurized distribution system

NOTE:  if anyone is interested in using rainwater for potable uses (such as gardening), please consult the Texas Rainwater Harvesting manual to ensure the water is clean and safe.